SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It’s beyond argument that Jamaal Charles is the Kansas City Chiefs’ best player. It’s certainly reasonable to suggest that when it comes to their second-best skill player another running back, Knile Davis, is a strong consideration.
So of course when the Chiefs needed a few yards at some important junctures in Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, they went elsewhere with the ball. You’re reading that correctly. The Chiefs had seven third-down plays in which they needed four yards or less to convert.
And they failed to get the ball to either Charles or Davis one time.
Those were only some of the strange coaching decisions made by Andy Reid in the Chiefs' 22-17 defeat. The Chiefs declined a chance to kick a long field goal late in the third quarter that would have put them ahead by four points, an important margin given the rate at which the 49ers themselves were kicking field goals.
Reid and his staff also failed at simple arithmetic in the fourth quarter, with the 49ers ahead by two points and in formation to try a 53-yard field goal. The Chiefs sent 12 players on the field for the kick and the resulting first down allowed San Francisco to chew two additional minutes off the clock with the 49ers eventually making a much shorter field goal.
"I’ll take the responsibility for that," Reid said of the 12th player. "I’ve got to make sure I count the guys and make sure that down the stretch everybody knows what they’re doing there and they do it."
Football games move at a rapid rate and sometimes, in the heat of things, mistakes are made. That can explain 12 players on the field to defend a field goal, though not at such a crucial point in the game.
But how do the Chiefs not get the ball to Charles, or even Davis, on third-and-short? The Chiefs passed all seven times in those situations.
"They’re normally a big-man team in short yardage," Reid said. "We thought we had some decent things for that. It didn’t work as well as we needed it to."
The Chiefs could have countered the 49ers’ muscle with some big players of their own. They like their three-tight end formations that include Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris. They used 345-pound defensive lineman Dontari Poe as a fullback in last Monday night's game against New England.
Instead of muscling up and going with a strength, the Chiefs threw the ball with varying results. In all, they threw 31 passes and ran 19 times, a large imbalance for a team that was in the lead for much of the game.
That’s two games, if you’re counting, that the Chiefs didn’t use Charles as they should have. The Chiefs are 2-3 and now have to play catch-up with the Chargers and Broncos in the AFC West, in part, because their best player has been a spectator too many times this season.
Charles, ever the team player, wouldn’t be critical of his coach.
"He calls he plays," Charles said. "Whatever he says, that’s what we’ve got to do."
Reid heads a solid coaching staff that deserves credit for helping the Chiefs recover from a disastrous season opener. But he’s not above the occasional lapse in judgment.
He made more than his normal share on Sunday.